08/28/12 9:14 PM ET
Niemann returning Saturday; Price pushed to Sunday
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Niemann, who will be activated on Saturday when rosters can be expanded, will pitch that day, pushing David Price back until Sunday.
That also means that James Shields will start the first game of the Yankees series at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon.
Niemann, who has been on the disabled list since May 15 after fracturing his right fibula, said he is "ready to go" and that he "felt great" during his bullpen on Tuesday.
"The ball is coming out great, and I feel really good about how I'm throwing the ball," Niemann said.
Pitching coach Jim Hickey said that Niemann's stuff looked better on Tuesday than it did before he was injured. Hickey explained the rationale of having a sixth starter for an outing or two even though the five pitchers in the current rotation have been performing well.
Niemann's return is "going to come at a good time," Hickey said. "A couple of the younger guys, [Alex] Cobb and [Matt] Moore, really haven't pitched continuously like this in their careers, so maybe it's a chance to slide [Niemann] in there to see where he's at, see where we're at and give us just a little bit of extended time between starts for those guys."
Niemann just wants to help the team any way he can.
The rotation has "been doing great things without me, and I want to come in and just continue the trend," he said. "And I feel like we can do that and just make the team better. And that's what I'm trying to do -- make the team better and contribute."
Niemann was injured in Toronto when he took a line drive by Adam Lind off the lower part of his right leg. He smiled when asked if he could appreciate the irony of making his comeback in Toronto.
"When that was first run by me -- that that was a possibility -- I was like, 'Are you guys serious? I've got to go face the dragon the first time out? I've got to see the demon?'" he said. "But that's baseball. That's how it works. Might as well be the first one."
News about Rodriguez is encouraging
ARLINGTON -- Sean Rodriguez visited the Rays' hand specialist, Dr. Doug Carlan, on Tuesday, and the news is encouraging.
The infielder's status for the remainder of the season had been in question after he injured his right hand punching a locker on Sunday following a game with Triple-A Durham.
According to the Rays, the hand will not require surgery. He will miss a few weeks, but he is not out for the season.
"It's still unfortunate, because we needed him earlier than that," manager Joe Maddon said.
Rodriguez was sent down last week to make room on the roster after Luke Scott returned from the disabled list. Rodriguez would have been recalled on Saturday, when the Rays expand their roster.
"He was going to be playing in Toronto. We thought we had it all set up. He was going to be down for a couple of days and work on some things and come back and play, so that's very unfortunate for us and him," Maddon said.
Maddon has texted with Rodriguez.
"He was very contrite," Maddon said. "Obviously, he was upset about his actions -- how inappropriate they were. He's always been [accountable]. You just can't do stuff like that. It upsets the rhythm of what we're doing and what he's doing. Of course, a regular injury is another story. A self-inflicted wound is different."
Rays preparing for roster expansion
ARLINGTON -- Teams can expand their rosters past the 25-man limit on Saturday. The Rays will be bringing a group of players to Toronto, but manager Joe Maddon said it will not be a large contingent.
In preparation for Saturday, Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operations, have been discussing the candidates.
"It's close to being solidified right now," Maddon said. "We've had our conversations. I don't think there will be any surprise. You're always looking for extra catchers. Some help in your bullpen. Some speed possibly, somebody who deserves an opportunity because of merit."
Minor Leaguer Sale suspended for 50 games
ARLINGTON -- Josh Sale, the Rays' No. 1 pick (17th overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, has been suspended after testing positive for methamphetamine and an amphetamine.
The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced the news on Tuesday that Sale was one of three Minor Leaguers to be suspended for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Sale, who will miss 50 games without pay, is the latest player from Bowling Green to receive such a suspension. Three were suspended Thursday for the same offense: second baseman Ryan Brett, pitcher Charles Cononie and pitcher Justin Woodall.
As did Sale, all three received 50-game suspensions without pay, effective immediately.
Rays experiencing lots of close calls
ARLINGTON -- Dating back to July 21, the Rays have lost nine of their last 10 one-run games. In addition, they are 6-18 in one-run games since May 28 after starting the season 12-4 (18-22 for the season).
Over their last 21 games, the Rays are 14-7. Six of the seven losses have come by a one-run margin. They became the first team to lose three 1-0 games in a month since the 2004 Angels.
Oddly, most would equate one-run losses with bullpen failures, but the Rays' relief corps leads the Major Leagues with a 1.26 ERA since the All-Star break. Over the team's last 36 games, dating back to July 19, the bullpen has a 0.81 ERA.
"No, they've been great," said manager Joe Maddon about the bullpen. "We've had a lot of games extended because the bullpen's been so good. I think a lot of it is [that] there have been a lot of good bullpens out there, both sides. We just have to get the run in somehow and get it rolling back in our direction."
When told that the Rays' fewest run totals for any innings have come in the seventh, eighth and ninth, Maddon said, "That makes sense."
"We've been a good ninth-inning team in the past," he added. "We just haven't been that more recently. ... [The pitching is] giving us a chance to win it. ... Pitching-wise, we've been there. We've been there at the end of every game. We've lost some extra-inning games -- some long ones where we just can't score a run. Even if you win two or three of those, the difference in the standings is incredible."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.